Saturday, 28 November 2009

The Good Muslim

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

When I first converted, I attended Abdal Hakim Murad’s talk on ‘The Muslim Jesus.’  Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad was born Timothy John Winters in 1960.  He was educated at Westminster School, and graduated with a double-first in Arabic from the University of Cambridge in 1983.  He studied and taught the traditional Islamic sciences at al-Azhar for several years.  He also spent an equal number of years in Jeddah administering a commercial translation office.  He maintained close contact with Habib Ahmad Mashhur al-Haddad (q.s.).  He returned to England in 1989 and spent two years at the University of London concentrating on Turkish and Persian.

Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad is currently the Shaykh Zayed Lecturer of Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Divinity at Cambridge University, Director of Studies in Theology at Wolfson College.  He holds many positions in various Islamic institutions and is a renowned scholar of the Islamic sciences, both internal and external.

Because of the subject of the talk, it was a packed venue.  There were many Muslims and there were many Christians who came with their Bibles.  It was after all, a controversial topic.  I remember when they left, they left their Bibles behind.  However, the nature of 'Isa (a.s.) was dealt with in a sensitive manner with respect and insight.  It was something new to me considering my Catholic background.

After the talk, I asked Shaykh Murad how long it took for him to learn that much.  And he said 25 years.  And I said, insha’Allah, in 25 years, I would know that much.  The arrogance of youth.  It has been a decade.  I have long way to go.  If other converts to Islam could reach those heights of knowledge, I fail to see why we should not try.  As converts, we came to this faith in a journey; it is incumbent upon us to seek that knowledge actively and aggressively.  It is with that intention that Allah (s.w.t.) Gives.  And how Generous is He

Another thing I learnt was the Sufi way.  It is all-inclusive.  We are searching for that transcendent Truth, al-Haq.  Islam is the superhighway there but it is presumptuous to think we are guaranteed Salvation.  It neglects the belief in Allah’s (s.w.t.) Grace.  There is no need to put another faith down to prove our superiority.

And thus the first hallmark of a good Muslim is the love of Allah (s.w.t.) and His Messengers and Saints.  It is the reflection of His Attributes and the emulation of their acts.  Love the religion and love the knowledge of it.

Another speaker I met was Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl.  One of the things that struck me about him was his love for books.  He bought hundreds of dollars worth of books when he was here.

The biography, I had, states that he was born in Kuwait which is interesting.  I remember sitting in his hotel room until late and he told us about Egypt during Anwar Sadat’s time.  About the crackdown, the torture of many scholars and the burning of religious books, many of them rare works from earlier times.

Anwar Sadat was assassinated on 06th October 1981 whilst reviewing the troops after the ‘successful’ Yom Kippur Campaign.  The assassins were identified as members of the banned Islamic Jihad with the collusion of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ikhwani Muslimin.  They shot him and threw grenades.  Hosni Mubarak was amongst the people there.  He cowered under the chair.  One of the attackers ran up to him, pointed a gun and saw how scared he was.  He said, “You’re not worth killing.”

Hosni Mubarak, former Air Force Officer and now President of Egypt, never forgot that affront to his manhood.  He and General Fouad Allam, head of Egypt's security service, rounded up thousands of suspects.  Many of them were guilty of the crime of coming from the same villages as the assassins.  There were tortures to elicit confessions, mass murders and human right abuses.  It was genocide.  This served as a recruiting tool for the future al-Qa’ida.  Amongst those rounded, jailed and tortured were Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who was later convicted of conspiring to blow up New York City landmarks, and Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of Osama bin Laden's two top lieutenants and former leader of al-Qa’ida Iraq.  This was always personal.  The American-backed despot had killed their family.

He told of how they were forced to run around a huge bonfire of Islamic books and sing or else they were beaten by the guards.  He later sough asylum in the US and became a crusader for human rights in the Muslim world.  And ever since then, he collected books all around the world.  He told me that we are so fortunate in Singapore.  He found copies Islamic books here that he could not find anywhere else in his extensive travels.  He showed me a cheap paperback he bought from Haji Hashim at Joo Chiat Complex.  He said that he could not find this book in the Middle East and it was thought lost.  But here in Southeast Asia, copies and translations were churned out and could be bought in neighbourhood bookstores.  Because of that, I learned to appreciate books and I have my own library.

And the second hallmark of a good Muslim is one who values knowledge.  Knowledge is precious.  It is to be respected.  Treat the books well.  Treat the teachers better.  Respect the ‘ilm.  Allah (s.w.t.) is al-‘Alim.  All Knowledge is His.  And if that Knowledge is Blessed, it brings you Closer.  But if Allah (s.w.t.) were to Punish a people, he takes away the knowledge and the teachers.

Another great speaker is Dr. Mustafa Cerić, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina.  Dr. Mustafa Effendi Cerić was born 1952 in Visoko, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslavia.  He is the Grand Mufti (Rais ul-‘Ulama) of Bosnia-Herzegovina.  He is currently serving his second 7-year term as the Grand Mufti which expires in 2013.  He is fluent in Bosnian, English and Arabic, and has a working knowledge of Turkish, German and French.

Dr. Mustafa Cerić graduated from a madrasah in Sarajevo.  He received a scholarship to al-Azhar.  He then returned to Yugoslavia, becoming an imam.  In 1981, he accepted the position of imam at the Islamic Cultural Center of Greater Chicago (ICC) in Northbrook, Illinois and lived in the United States for several years.  During his time in the United States, he learned English and earned a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies at the University of Chicago.  After his studies, he left the ICC and returned to Yugoslavia and became an imam again in a learning center in Zagreb in 1987.  He officially became the Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1999, although he has led the Islamic community in Bosnia since 1993.

Dr. Mustafa Cerić told us a first-hand account of the Siege of Sarajevo.  The Siege of Sarajevo is the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare.  Serb forces of the Republika Srpska and the Yugoslav People's Army besieged Sarajevo from 5th April, 1992 to 29th February, 1996 during the Bosnian War.

Because the Bosnian army was poorly equipped, they could not break out of the city.  Many massacres of Muslims took place.  NATO and the UN stood by and dithered in the Security Council.  Eventually, the siege was lifted when NATO forces started attacking Serb positions and bombed Serbia itself.  The Bosnian forces were also getting a supply of weapons - from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the Saudis.  An influx of mujahidin that started as a trickle was threatening to become a flood.  NATO, the UN Security Council and the United States acted in self-interest.  By that time, tens of thousands of Muslims were dead - raped, murdered, tortured.  Before that, it was a minor conflict in the forgotten part of Europe.

It was a lesson in not taking religious freedom and racial harmony for granted.  It was a lesson in the idea of what constitutes a good Muslim.  Dr. Mustafa Cerić told us how the Serbs came and how the Dutch peacekeepers stood aside and watched the atrocities.  The Bosnians came to the Dutch peacekeepers begging for sanctuary.  They declined and retreated, leaving them to the mercy of the Serbs.

“We will never forget how they stood aside and let us die.  We will never forgive what they allowed to happen to us.”  I remember the exact way it was said.  It was a graphic description.  It was as if we were there.  The crowd was silent.

He told us that when the Serbs attacked, “they did not ask if you were a good Muslim or a bad Muslim.”  If you were a Muslim, if you looked like a Muslim, if your name sounded Muslim; they killed you.  It was an extermination campaign, ethnic cleansing, genocide.  Like killing rats.  The women were raped, the men were sometimes sodomised.  Sons were killed before their mothers, husbands before their wives; men, women, children.  Even the livestock, the cows, the chickens, the dogs, the cats.  It was as if the Mongols had returned to Baghdad.

So those who were ‘good’ Muslims?  Many of them ran away.  Those who were Muslims in name, stayed to fight.  They fought for their lives, they fought for their homes, they fought for their families.  And later they fought for their religion.  And because they fought for their religion, they started to learn their religion.  And these ‘bad’ Muslims became the good Muslims.

The Sufi groups that were banished since the fall of the Ottomans were revived.  Especially the Naqshbandi.  And the old ways returned in full force.  From the flower of conflict, from the nourishment of blood, Islam took root in a place after the fall of communism.  This, I know, since one of the people who taught me was Shaykh Fikret Karcic.  He went back to become the Mufti of Sarajevo.  And this is a lesson where Allah (s.w.t.) declares that He is the Best of Planners.

A long time ago, that part of the Europe until the Gates of Vienna was Muslim.  Bulgaria, much of Greece, Romania, Southern Russia, Albania.  This was a heartland of Islam as old as al-Andalus.  And like al-Andalus before, the Muslims were reduced from a majority to almost nothing.  They did not leave their religion in droves.  They did not convert out.  They were killed in campaigns of genocide.  If you ever go there, you will see thousands of remains of mosques and Sufi dargah.  Of mosques that were converted to churches.  Of maqamat torn down.  And perhaps mass graves that no one except the oldest inhabitants of the area know.

So who is a good Muslim?  You or I?  The imam of the masjid?  Or the person down the street drinking in the afternoon during Ramadhan?  Only when we are tested do we know our faith.  And it is not our faith.  It is His Faith.


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